Erythropoietic Protoporphyria (EPP)
I live life with EPP! I was diagnosed when I was six by a dermatologist named Carl Anderson who has since passed away. Up until my diagnosis, my parents had heard it all from a number of doctors. I was allergic to a medicine, or I was allergic to weed killer, to simply saying, "it is just a rash." All the while, I would scream in pain. My parents would help by placing cool clothes on me.
I live in sunny southern California in a beach town. All my friends were into surfing and sailing. The outdoors is part of life in SoCal. I did not let my EPP stop me from enjoying the outdoors— though sometimes I paid dearly. I played baseball until high school. I learned to sail. I ran in triathlons and half-marathons. I snow skied and water-skied. I played golf. All the time I endured the funny looks and mean things said about the way I looked and had to dress. I did not let it stop me. Sure, it bothered me when I was young. It hurt. However, as I got older I saw it as other people's problem, not mine. I was living my life the best way I knew how. I was not going to let EPP stop me from enjoying life.
I had a doctor once who told my parents I should move to Seattle where it was cloudy more often. He said I should learn to play chess and ping-pong—indoor sports instead of baseball and golf and sailing. My parents would hear nothing of it; they knew I was going to live my life the way I wanted to live.
I have had two liver transplants because of my EPP. The porphyrins dumped into the liver and made it cirrhotic. I had my first transplant when I was 27 years old. The liver lasted 12 years, during which I was able to continue my normal active lifestyle. I married and had two kids. Neither of my kids shows symptoms of EPP. In fact, one wants to be a lifeguard! Both of my children can run around on the beach all day without being burned, well, aside from basic sunburn. Their mother and I lather them with sunscreen when they go out to the beach or are playing soccer or swimming. The boys are six and eight and I am confident they do not have EPP.
My second transplant was more dramatic. I was 39, my liver and kidneys failed, and I went into a coma. I was transplanted three weeks later and subsequently spent the next eight months in UCLA Medical Center. I was on dialysis for six months after which by some miracle my kidneys began to work again. The transplant and hospitalization took a great toll on my body. I am no longer able to be as active as I was. I have neuropathy in my feet from the kidney failure and nerve damage from being in bed for so long. I am twenty pounds underweight and weak. I like to joke that I am a 42-year old living in a 92-year-old body. I still live with the EPP and who knows how long this liver will last. I take infusions of Panhematin to slow the progression of porphyrins into the liver (this is the hope anyway). The key is I am still living.
I still endure the looks from people, like the other parents at the soccer field when I watch my kids play. I do not care if they think it is odd someone wearing long pants, long sleeves and gloves on a 90-degree SoCal day. To me, they have a problem, not me. People do what they have to do to cope. I am not going to let EPP keep me from enjoying my life and enjoying watching my kids grow up. My kids understand that Dad has to be careful of the sun. They understand Dad is not as strong as he once was because of his surgery. They understand why Dad has to wear protective clothing in the pool; they are just happy that Dad is in the pool with them! Grown-ups should be so understanding.
I hope you enjoy my story and I am anxious to hear how others with EPP are LIVING, not just coping or suffering. Someday there will be a cure for this, and I plan on being around to see it!